When the buzzer goes at the end of Canada’s game versus Austria today, play time is going to be over. Their next round-robin game is against a talented Finnish team with great goaltending, and every game after that is win-or-go-home. They’d prefer not to do the latter, I’m told.
So when things get real on Sunday, you really want your best lines assembled and staying together, you want your powerplay units to be working together so they get in a groove, and you want your best players on the ice as much as possible.
Today, these things are not the case.
Teams in this tournament have been given almost zero time to self-evaluate, and that makes a coach’s job hard. As much as you’d like to think that you can just plunk your three best players together and make a great line, that’s not always the case (you know teams understand this, because Crosby’s on a line with Kunitz and Carter). Which is why they need to use the game against Austria, which they have about a 97% chance of winning, as a test practice of sorts.
Here’s what’s up with the roster:
If you slept through Team Canada news…Duchene/Subban in, Hamhuis/Sharp out.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 14, 2014
It’s great to see them give everyone a look, but it’s important that they don’t just let these guys put sweaters on and leave them on the bench. This isn’t house hockey (everybody gets to say they helped!) – you have to actually find out if they’re going to be tools you can use.
Basically, what I’m saying is this: if you have any lines in your head that aren’t changing, with players on them that aren’t coming out of the lineup, barely use them today. Explain to them what you’re doing so they’re okay with it, but find out if Martin St. Louis can play with Sidney Crosby or not. Find out if Jamie Benn deserves more minutes. See if Matt Duchene looks like the game breaker he can be in the NHL. Give the majority of minutes to players you won’t down the road, rest your stars, and try some different trios. It’s all valuable information to provide yourself with.
(The only thing I wouldn’t mess with today are the powerplay units. They looked rough in game one, and the more reps those guys can get together the better.)
During even strength shifts, you’ve been afforded the luxury of two games for evaluation that not all teams were so fortunate to have. You’d be silly not to take advantage of that schedule to make sure you’re giving the right guys the minutes when the tournament is on the line.